Sexual Anticipation

Sexual response is another complex reaction modulated by neurochemicals. Like the others, it is subject to classical conditioning. Graham and Desjardins (1980) provided male rats with sexual partners in the same environment each day. Soon the rats showed an eightfold rise in sex hormones when placed into the cage, even when there were no other rats present.

How did Graham and Desjardins demonstrate classical conditioning of sex hormone response? What was a similar finding with quail?

Domjan, Blesbois, and Williams (1998) did a similar experiment with quail. They did not find a rise in testosterone, but they found that male quail produced more sperm of better quality after being presented with a stimulus (the sight of a female's head and neck) that previously came before copulation. The researchers pointed out the implication: quick learning of the Pavlovian variety can improve an animal's reproductive and evolutionary success.

A student reported how classical conditioning was used to help gather sperm for artificial insemination of horses:

I wanted to tell you about a form of classical conditioning that I've encountered. In high school. I planned on majoring in veterinary medicine, and I attended a number of workshops offered by the University of Georgia. In one workshop we were learning about sperm collection for artificial insemination of farm animals. Apparently in previous years they had a student hold a stallion in place while other students paraded mares in front of the stallion until he was aroused. Then the mares would be escorted out and the stallion would be allowed to mount a fake horse that would collect the sperm in a bottle attached to it.

How did agriculture experts use classical conditioning to help with artificial insemination?

Realizing that students could get hurt, the agriculture officials chose to use classical conditioning. They kept the stallion in his pen and several times they let the mares in. Just before the mares entered a red flag was raised. Eventually the stallions would become aroused when the flag was raised. That meant nobody had to hold the stallion or parade the mares; they could just raise the flag, open the pen, and the stallion would mount the fake horse. [Author's files]

How might paraphilias be due to classical conditioning?

Some psychologists speculate that odd sexual attractions, technically called paraphilias, are the result of classical conditioning. For example, shoes are sexually arousing to some people. Perhaps that person experienced the sight and smell of a shoe right before a sexually arousing experience. The result might be a "shoe fetish" (sexual arousal from sight or contact with shoes). There is no proof this explanation is correct, but it is one of the few reasonable ways to explain paraphilias, many of which are quite odd and otherwise hard to explain.


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